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Cross Sound Ferry flips out over wind assembly plans

If you could scream and shout and jump up and down in a letter, that's exactly what Cross Sound Ferry seemed to be doing in a two-page missive it fired off last week, lambasting the Connecticut Port Authority for its obtrusive plans to accommodate wind turbine assembly at State Pier in New London.

The company says the wind work as proposed would interfere with the company's use of its ferry terminals, a complaint it says has been ignored.

The Nov. 13 letter, with a headline underlined and in capital letters — URGENT FOR IMMEDIATE ATTENTION — is signed by John Wronowski, Cross Sound president, and addressed to David Kooris, acting port authority chairman, with copies to Gov. Ned Lamont, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and the entire southeastern Connecticut delegation to the General Assembly.

Wronowski complains in no uncertain terms, with lots of underlining and capital letters throughout, that its months of "articulating concerns" about how an enormous "installation vessel," the largest of its kind in the world, that offshore wind partners Orsted and Eversource want to berth at the pier, would obstruct the ferry company's use of its nearby terminals for arriving and departing vessels.

Indeed, at about the same time I obtained the letter, I tracked down a rendering of the giant ship, which literally towers over the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, taller even than the city's church steeples. New London's imposing waterfront Union Station looks like a toy next to it.

The ship "creates a maneuvering interference in the federal channel that obstructs and reduces the usefulness of the ferry loading slips . . . which are critical for present operations and future growth," Wronowski wrote.

Yikes.

Not only can't Lamont seem to find a way to pay for the state's crumbling transportation infrastructure, but he's proposing to allow a Danish wind company to disrupt the state's marine link to eastern Long Island, one of the largest ferry systems in the country, carrying hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year.

What astonishes me most about the letter is the inept way the Lamont administration has handled the problem, leaving this significant Connecticut business to resort to a loud cry for help, after getting mostly the cold shoulder.

I wrote to Kooris Monday to ask about the Cross Sound Ferry letter. He usually responds promptly to email, but this one was met with silence.

The letter — I got a copy from state Sen. Cathy Osten, who mentioned it when we were discussing the upcoming Transportation Committee hearing on port authority corruption — explains the ferry company's extreme frustration with the way its complaints have been received.

Most alarming, the company suggested, was that after its first complaints about an installation vessel, which would be 475 feet long and 175 feet wide, were lodged, over months, during multiple meetings with Orsted, Eversource, port authority representatives and lawmakers, the plans changed, but for the worse.

"Recently we received a new plan titled 'CSF PROPOSED ADJUSTMENTS' from state officials that depicts alterations to our ferry terminal that might mitigate interference caused by the installation vessel.

"Upon closer inspection, we discovered that this plan now depicts a MUCH LARGER installation vessel (560 feet long x 185 feet wide) that is located even CLOSER to our ferry terminal."

This is the part of the letter where Wronowski seems to be jumping up and down and shouting. Who can blame him?

The new plan moves the vessel 75 feet closer to the ferry terminal and 20 feet farther south into the maneuvering areas of the ferries.

"This change in vessel size and location is TOTALLY CONTRARY to the concerns we have repeatedly expressed and MAGNIFIES OUR CONCERNS significantly," the ferry company president wrote.

Wronowski had explained earlier how ferry captains tested the impact of the installation vessel by trying to maneuver around a buoy placed at the end of the location where it would be moored.

Making matters even worse, the vessel becomes virtually 300 feet wide when loaded and would be docked in New London as many as 72 days a year, instead of the 20 per year Cross Sound was originally told.

In all the years I have watched Cross Sound grow and prosper, it has always enjoyed bipartisan government support and lots of grant money. In one of its last big grants, the federal government agreed to replace the engines in a used ferry that Cross Sound purchased for its fleet, to make them cleaner burning and more efficient.

I wouldn't be surprised if the morning coffee at the ferry offices is purchased with federal grants.

But the Lamont administration has managed to turn this relationship on its head, creating a loud squeaky wheel, important constituents who can't seem to find a sympathetic ear in Hartford.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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